One of the biggest challenges for the thousands of ECD centres dotted around informal communities in South Africa, is registration with the Department of Social Development (DSD).
The registration process is complex and lengthy; while the norms and standards that need to be met are often unattainable given how the resource requirements match up against the reality. The end goal – a stamp of approval from DSD and, possibly, access the early learning subsidy – is fleeting. For many ECD centre managers, or principals as they are known in the sector, the entire procedure can feel like an intricate and exhausting sports game, the rules of which are never fully explained.
It is with this in mind that Ikamva Labantu, a community welfare non-profit organisation, set about creating South Africa’s first ECD centre registration helpdesk. The helpdesk project was born from a similar initiative led by DSD over the course of a year back in 2009.
“When the work with DSD ended in 2010, we understood the huge need for a service like this in communities,” says Ntombokhanyo Singata, who co-ordinates the help desk project at Ikamva.
“We started out big, with eight community-based workers working across nine areas in the Cape Town metro; and even with little marketing, we have had a great demand for the service. So far, we have 387 educares on our database and we have helped 56 to register, while another 36 are in the process.”
The chief goal of the helpdesk is to assist ECD centres to navigate the DSD registration process by aligning to the norms and standards. ECD centre principals visit Ikamva on open door days (Tuesdays and Fridays in Khayelitsha, Wednesdays in Gugulethu) and log their concerns. Over the course of the following weeks, community workers visit the centre, advising the principal on how to go about overcoming the various hurdles they face en route to compliance. “For example, we may assist them with receiving zoning clearance. There are a lot of misconceptions around zoning in residential areas, so we would assist the centre in dealing with the City of Cape Town,” says Ntombokhanyo.
The helpdesk is being funded by DSD, and is supported through relationships with other key government bodies in the registration process such as the Department of Fire and Safety, Department of Health and the Department of Land Use. Meanwhile, the City of Cape Town ECD Directorate assists with First Aid Training and the South African Revenue Services provides an information sharing session.
These links with government prompted Ntombokhanyo to initiate twice-yearly imbizos, which bring the ECD centres and government together to discuss issues and educate.
“The imbizos also inform our advocacy work,” she says. “We see so many centres’ principals getting very frustrated with the compliance requirements because they simply cannot meet them. We began collecting all the complaints and we are using them to argue for greater leniency for centre registration.”
“Circumstances should be taken into consideration when a centre is assessed for registration. We know of many educares who are providing a quality early learning services but have no hope of meeting the norms and standards because they are operating from a wooden structure as opposed to the required bricks and mortar one; or where structures are required to be painted with a fire retardant material – which is extremely costly. Our hope is for centres to access the subsidy and further improve their early learning service through their ability to provide quality nutrition and the retention of practitioners who are trained to deliver age-appropriate activities according to registered learning programmes.
In addition to the structural challenges, there are too few dedicated government staff for ECD, meaning that people are too thinly spread out and the turnaround time for site assessments and provision of reports are extremely protracted. This plays a pertinent factor in the drawn out registration process.
To find out more about the ECD centre registration helpdesk, contact Ntombokhanyo Singata at Ikamva Labantu, on +27213610909 or Ntombokhanyo@ikamva.co.za.